Fundamentals of Worship: Trespass Offerings

Leviticus chapter five describes the procedures that were required for the children of Israel to make a sacrifice for trespasses that they committed. A trespass is essentially sinning against someone. It is not just a personal sin. It is a sin we commit they brings harm or has a negative affect on others. Leviticus chapter five is divided in three parts as it addresses three various trespass offerings.

Trespass offering for inadvertent trespasses. Sometimes we may sin against other people indirectly. It may not be something we do to them; however, it may be something we do that affects them negatively. There are three examples of such inadvertent trespasses seen in our text. (1) Withholding Evidence. Leviticus 5:1 says, “And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he hath seen or known of it; if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity.” This is a reference to someone who is a witness of a crime and has an obligation to testify in a court of law. An individual is guilty when he or she remains silent and withholds vital evidence. The principle here is that, as believers, we have a responsibility to hold each other accountable. If you see a brother or sister in Christ involved in sinful actions, you have a responsibility to approach them and in love and grace reveal their sin to them so they may have opportunity to repent. This should not be done in arrogance or in a ‘holier than thou’ attitude. It should be done in a spirit of love and grace and in a way that edifies and encourages rather than in judgement and condemnation. However, to allow someone to continue in their sin without taking steps to help them is essentially committing a trespass against them. (2) Touching the Unclean. Notice what verses 2 and 3 says: “Or if a soul touch any unclean thing whether it be a carcass of unclean cattle or the carcass of unclean creeping things, and if it be hidden from him; he also shall be unclean, and guilty. Or if he touch the uncleanness of man, whatsoever uncleanness it be that a man shall be defiled withal, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty.” The principle we see here applies to ungodliness that we may expose ourselves to. When we expose ourselves with that which is unclean we are sinning not only against ourselves but also against those with whom we are accountable to. One of the obvious examples of such a trespass would be engaging in pornographic material. This is a sin that may be committed in secret. You may think that it hurts no one. However, defiling yourself with such ungodliness is a trespass against your spouse and your family. You can fill in the blank with any type of impurity and ungodliness. Sins that we may commit privately can also be trespasses against others. We have heard the phrase often, “guilty by association.” This is very true. When we associate with that which is unclean and ungodly, we have sinned against ourselves and others. (3) Taking a Thoughtless Oath. Verse 4 says, “Or if a soul swear, pronouncing with his lips to do evil, or to do good, whatsoever it be that a man shall pronounce with an oath, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth it, then he shall be guilty in one of these.” Have you ever made a promise that you could not keep? Have you ever made a flippant statement about something you are going to do, knowing good and well that you could never do it? When we make such statements, we are trespassing against others. James 5:12 says, “But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea and your nay be nay; lest ye fall into temptation.” In our dealing with others, it is imperative that we practice honesty. Be clear when you speak and don’t make promises that you cannot keep.

“In this section we see two important components of Israel’s religion, purity expressed in what is sacred and responsibility in taking an oath (particularly in reference to a legal case). This twofold nature of biblical religion is reflected in the Ten Commandments, which begin with one’s personal relationship with God and then move to one’s relationship to others. The commandments address both the vertical and horizontal relationships. This twofold nature of the believer’s responsibilities is in harmony with Jesus’ teaching (Matt 22:37–38) and with the New Testament as a whole (1 John 4:20).”[1] Purity before God and honesty with one another are the basic elements of holy living.

Trespass offering for trespasses against God. Verses 14-16 of our text refers to trespassing against God. There are times when we are disobedient to God’s commands and we are thus committing a trespass against Him. There are times when we may not necessarily sin against others, but, we are sinning against God. Most often, these are what we may call sins of omission. It is when we know something to be right, but, yet we don’t do it. There are commands that God gives us and when we fail to obey those commands, we are sinning against Him.

Trespass offering for unknown sins. Verses 17-19 describes the sacrifices that had to be made for those sins that may not be known. Sometimes we may sin unknowingly. Even in those cases, God provides a way for those sins to be paid for.

The good news for you and I today is that we do not have to make all of these animal sacrifices in order to have our sins forgiven. Our sins have been covered by the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. Every sin that we ever have or will commit, whether known or unknown, is all covered by the blood of Jesus when we place our faith in Christ alone.

[1] Rooker, M. F. (2000). Leviticus (Vol. 3A, p. 118). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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